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Monday, August 28, 2017

Dealing with Disappointment: How to Enable your Child

When you're a child, disappointments feel like the end of all hopes, a dark and gloomy day, and if you have an imaginative daughter like D, possibly also like "the cruellest cut of all" and other dramatic references.

It does happen once in a while, and the most recent was just a few days back. D had the preliminary heats for her Sports Day events and came back mightily disappointed that she didn't get selected as the teacher made her run an extra round by mistake, when she had already done the required number. The teacher was "so" unfair, life was unfair, and so on.

As a parent, my first impulse was to message the teacher :P.. yes yes as non-"tiger mom" as I usually am, I was feeling particularly protective and tigress-like in that moment. Then, I reminded myself that one of the most important things I will do as a parent is to:

1. Let them fight their own battles: Sometimes it might not even be a battle anyway. In this case, she was not too keen to be forceful about it or "fight" with the teacher, which is a sentiment I understand. I did manage to advise her though to not give up completely and go and enquire about her timing at least in a mild manner to reassure herself that the other teacher on the field also hadn't noticed her additional round.

Some other learnings along the way, for me as a parent, to understand what it is that works (hopefully!) in a situation like this:

2. Reassure your child that you believe her and understand why she is disappointed: As an adult, one of the first impulses is to ask "Are you sure?" but I'm pretty sure that this would have been the wrong thing to say at this point ;). All it needs is to put yourself in their shoes and think how you would want to be treated. In this case, she was very clear as to why she thought a mistake had been made (she sprinted throughout, many others walked part-way, and no one passed her at all until she had to repeat the round). To her credit, she even expressed some doubts later after calming down that maybe she'd made a mistake!

3. Talk about unfairness and how to handle interactions: I make sure to discuss with the kids whenever I come across a labelling of teachers for any reason - too strict, too lenient(!), not good, or as in this case - unfair. I was sure the teacher must have been busy handling multiple events, and definitely no ill will was intended towards D in particular. I told her that the teacher might have made an honest mistake, and might have been a bit sharp in responding to D while she was running as she was busy trying to keep track of everything and couldn't spend time on her in the middle of the race. Also, D is a new entrant to the school's athletics events so no one would have expected her to do well (I know this is bordering on unfairness, but I also know that it's realistic). She has started athletics classes in the last 2-3 months so has really improved and picked up a passion to prove herself in the area, but how are folks at school to know that?

4. What next? Set some goals to focus on: After she calmed down, she of course still hoped that she might have been selected for one of the athletics events. And it's good to have hope. But I also tried to prepare her for the result that she might not have been shortlisted for anything, and that's ok as she really did try her heart out which is the most important thing. We also talked about what else she can focus on - there's an event coming up at her athletics class so we agreed that that could still be a lot of fun and she can train towards proving herself there.

I started this post a few days back, and now I also know that it's definitely nowhere as easy as just following the steps. Though D calmed down that day, she did spend a fair amount of time on "Why me?"s and "So unfair!"s in the next few days. After all, she's 12. But reinforcing all the above definitely helped, and she's looking forward to the actual Sports Day event even if all she will participate in will be the marches and dances. And we will be there cheering her on :).


  1. Kudos to you for handling this well. In your place I may have taken this up with the teacher sheet confirming a skin times of they were sure. It is actually a tricky situation where on the one hand you want to do something and yet hold back.

    1. Thanks so much Rachna :). So true that it's tough to take a call on how to handle it.. at the Sports Day yesterday, while watching this particular event I did feel bad all over again thinking of D's disappointment. But yes, I hope she's learnt to look ahead to the next opportunity, and I reminded her of that again when the day was done.

  2. More than anything else you've told her, the maturity/ g
    race/ calm with which you've handled this will stay with her as she grows.

  3. Very valid points. Esp. the part about asking are you sure? I check myself now each time I feel the urge to ask this question. I realized belatedly how much the question dents the child's mind after R started to complain that I anyway don't believe him.
    Could also relate to the non-tiger mom wanting to become tiger-like in such situations :)